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Monday, August 3, 2009

Saigon vs. Bien Hoa

After taking my trip into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) on Sunday, I returned to Bien Hoa & immediately felt a difference.

Saigon is a bigger city with more traffic & a faster pace in general. Of course there is a wider selection of goods in Saigon, including books in English, which we don't have much of in Bien Hoa. Plus there are many more Westerners walking around there. It was weird to see so many tall white people again.

Also, many people speak English in Saigon, whereas in Bien Hoa it's rare to find someone who knows more than "Hello!" I don't speak Vietnamese, so it's been difficult to get certain things done here in Bien Hoa without the help of a Vietnamese friend.

But the biggest difference that I felt between Saigon & Bien Hoa was in the attitude of the Vietnamese people. In Saigon, I felt like everyone was out to scam me, as if I had a sign on my back that read: "Walking ATM". Being a Westerner, people in Saigon assume I am an ignorant tourist, who will easily pay higher prices without realizing it, & to some degree that is true.

I paid 40,000 Dong for a scooter taxi from the train station to Reunification Palace. I could tell that the taxi driver was proud of himself for getting such a high price from me. Later, I got a scooter taxi back to the train station for 20,000 Dong - half the price! But when you think about it, that's the difference between about $2 & about $1.

When I stepped off the train in Bien Hoa, I immediately felt more relaxed. I didn't have the tension of distrust of the people approaching me that I did in Saigon. Here in Bien Hoa, they call out a friendly hello, & all they want is a friendly response. They're not trying to get any money from you. They really just want to say hello.

Any Westerner would be shocked at how cheap prices are in Vietnam, but 40,000 Dong is a lot of money here. I can get an entire meal in a decent restaurant in Bien Hoa for that amount. I really need to learn how to haggle over a dollar!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Agreed! It's not the end of the world to get ripped off a little but learning to haggle is a) great for your language skills and b) will probably earn you some respect from the locals. It can make the difference between being treated like a local (well... a transplant), and just a tourist.